Penn Eco-Reps is working to add more green to the Red and Blue.
Easily identifiable in their green T-shirts, student Eco-Reps work within their college houses, Greek chapters and athletic teams to raise greater awareness about sustainability through a variety of campaigns and projects. This year, their eco-friendly mission is extending beyond Penn’s campus boundaries.
Eco-Reps are participating in the Impact Project, in which students are partnered with local environmental agencies to achieve certain goals by the end of the semester.
“It’s very similar to Management 100 ... students provide pro bono services to organizations who had applied and were screened over the summer,” Athletics Eco-Reps Coordinator and College and Wharton junior Berenice Leung said. Eco-Reps is currently working on projects such as performing soil testing in the local neighborhood and researching design ideas for a compost system at the Community Farm and Food Resource Center at Bertram’s Garden.
First started at Tufts University in 1990, the Eco-Reps program was founded at Penn six years ago by Sustainability Outreach Manager Julian Goresko. As one of the first universities in the country to adopt the program, Penn has created a platform for students to work directly with the Penn Green Campus Partnership to promote environmental consciousness.
Student Eco-Reps work within their respective communities to organize events and activities such as the Power Down Challenge and ReThink Your Footprint to promote initiatives such as energy conservation and waste minimization.
Student Coordinator and College sophomore Rebecca Composto manages the program in all 11 college houses and explains that at other schools such as American University and Dartmouth College, the Eco-Reps program centers around a group of paid students who focus on one main campaign. At Penn, however, students focus on smaller projects throughout the year such as the Green Living Certification and Green Move-Out.
Specifically, the college house Eco-Reps collect data about living habits, promote sustainable practices such as the use of drying racks and organize activities such as Trashketball, a recycling initiative. By coordinating with house deans and resident advisors graduate advisors, the Eco-Reps work within the dorms to promote environmentally conscious practices.
However, enacting tangible change within the college houses can be challenging.
“There is a detachment in college houses in which many people don’t know each other,” Greek Eco-Reps Coordinator and Engineering junior Joana Smith said. “[The program] is a lot more effective in a Greek chapter house because only about 20 people live in each house and it’s a lot faster to enact change and bounce ideas off of each other.”
The third branch of Eco-Reps comprises varsity student athletes working within their teams. These Athletics Eco-Reps survey their teammates and gauge their needs to create personalized suggestions on ways to be greener, Leung explained.
Sustainability Coordinator Rebecca Sokol had helped found the Eco-Reps program at Wesleyan University before accepting her current position at Penn. “Penn is really at the forefront of the other universities in terms of putting sustainability on the list of priorities,” she said.
Leung agrees that the University is committed to promoting green practices.
“We’ve made a big step forward with Amy Gutmann signing the Climate Action Plan,” Leung said. “What I’ve learned from my business and sustainability courses is that a lot of change comes from the consistent values of management down to the employees or students.
“To have that upper level support really helps push us forward.”
However, Composto believes a lot more needs to be done. “There’s a lot of bureaucracy and a lot of approval to get which makes changing things very slow,” she said. “From what I heard last, the New College House is going to use disposable paper plates, but why? What happened that the message wasn’t [conveyed]?”
“Sustainability just doesn’t feel like it’s second nature or ingrained to the Penn culture or the administration,” Composto said.
Nevertheless, Sokol believes the students have driven the program forward: “The Penn Eco-Reps program wouldn’t be so ahead of the game if the students weren’t so passionate and dedicated.”
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